A stun­ner in Seat­tle

Sea­hawks up­set the de­fend­ing cham­pion Saints.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY RICK MAESE

seat­tle — In the days lead­ing up to Satur­day’s game, the Seat­tle Sea­hawks were barely an af­ter­thought in these play­offs, un­de­serv­ing of a home game in the wild-card round, the crit­ics said, and es­sen­tially serv­ing as a mi­nor ob­sta­cle for the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons.

“ That’s all right,” said Sea­hawks run­ning back Mar­shawn Lynch. “ The only thing that mat­ters is that we be­lieve in our group. Within us, we be­lieved that we could do it and we did it.”

In one of the biggest post­sea­son up­sets the NFL has seen, the New Or­leans Saints were elim­i­nated in the wild-card round of the play­offs Satur­day,

Satur­day’s re­sults Sea­hawks 41, Saints 36 Jets at Colts, late To­day’s games Ravens at Chiefs, 1, WUSA-9, WJZ-13 Pack­ers at Ea­gles, 4:30, WTTG-5, WBFF-45

los­ing los­ing 41-36 to a Sea­hawks team that strug­gled to post seven reg­u­lar sea­son wins and backed into the play­offs by fin­ish­ing atop its calami­tous di­vi­sion.

The Sea­hawks are no longer a 7-9 team, though. With Satur­day’s sur­pris­ing win, they’re 1-0 in the sea­son that mat­ters most, the post­sea­son, and sud­denly as con­fi­dent as any team left

stand­ing.

“We are not go­ing to be in­tim­i­dated by whomever we play or wher­ever we go,” said first-year coach Pete Car­roll. “I prom­ise you that. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

The Sea­hawks be­came the first NFL team with a los­ing record, to win a play­off game. Odds­mak­ers had pegged them as 10-point un­der­dogs, though they were play­ing at home at Qwest Field, one of the loud­est sta­di­ums in the NFL.

If Philadel­phia de­feats Green Bay Sun­day evening, the Sea­hawks will ad­vance to play at At­lanta in the di­vi­sional round of the NFL play­offs next Satur­day. If the Pack­ers top the Ea­gles, Seat­tle would head to Chicago to face the Bears.

To Car­roll and his play­ers, next week­end’s foe is ap­par­ently a small de­tail. “It doesn’t mat­ter who we’re play­ing right now,” Car­roll said. “It just doesn’t.”

The Sea­hawks lost seven of their fi­nal 10 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son but with cru­cial wins each of the past two weeks — both es­sen­tial to ex­tend­ing their run — play­ers and coaches say they’re com­ing to­gether at the per­fect time.

“When we needed it the very most, it seems like we’re as to­gether as we could be,” Car­roll said. “I don’t care how it got there, the fact that it’s there — cool. And we’re go­ing to go on and take on the next one.”

Said quar­ter­back Matt Has­sel­beck: “I think our team is start­ing to come to­gether in some ways that are spe­cial.”

Has­sel­beck, whose sta­tus had been in ques­tion for much the week lead­ing up to the game, was 22-of-35 pass­ing for 272 yards and four touch­downs. With an ex­pir­ing con­tract, the 12-year vet­eran knew Satur­day’s game could be his last at Qwest Field.

“Matt’s al­ways fo­cused, al­ways well-pre­pared, but this week, he had a lit­tle ex­tra edge to him in prac­tice,” said tight end John Carl­son.

Has­sel­beck had few prob­lems with the Saints’ vaunted de­fense, de­signed by de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Gregg Wil­liams, and made big plays when they counted most. New Or­leans en­tered the game giv­ing up only 193.4 yards pass­ing per game, but Has­sel­beck eclipsed that mark in the open­ing min­utes of the sec­ond half.

He led a rag-tag group that some­how man­aged to paste 41 points and 415 yards of of­fense on the league’s fourth-ranked de­fense. His sup­port­ing cast is un­like any other in these play­offs.

The Buf­falo Bills gave up on Lynch and traded him here in Oc­to­ber. He had 131 yards Satur­day, his high­est to­tal since Novem­ber 2008. His 67-yard touch­down late in Satur­day’s game was the long­est of his ca­reer, sealed the win and with its pin­ball the­atrics, will be a sta­ple on high­light shows. Car­roll called it “one of the great­est runs I ever saw.”

Wide re­ceiver Mike Wil­liams was a for­mer first-round pick who’d long ago earned the “ bust” la­bel and sat out the pre­vi­ous two years be­fore Car­roll brought him to Seat­tle. He had a touch­down and 68 re­ceiv­ing yards Satur­day and is per­haps the Sea­hawks’ most ex­plo­sive of­fen­sive per­former.

The team’s other top re­ceivers are Ben Obo­manu, a for­mer sev­enth-round pick who’d made zero NFL starts in his pre­vi­ous three sea­sons, and Bran­don Stok­ley, a 34-year-old vet­eran who spent the first three weeks of the sea­son at home, wait­ing for an NFL team to call. Obo­manu had 43 yards on five catches Satur­day and Stok­ley had 73 yards and a touch­down.

Carl­son had one touch­down in 16 reg­u­lar sea­son games. He had two against New Or­leans, both in the first half when the Saints were try­ing to pull away.

The Saints held leads of 10-0 and 17-7, but the Sea­hawks ac­tu­ally fought their way to a 24-20 ad­van­tage at the half. They car­ried the mo­men­tum into the third quar­ter, scor­ing on their first drive of the sec­ond half.

The Saints clawed their way back in it. Run­ning back Julius Jones scored twice and quar­ter­back Drew Brees threw for 404 yards. The out­come re­mained in doubt un­til Lynch’s long run with only 3:22 re­main­ing.

The Saints added a late score, but it wasn’t enough to keep alive their Saints’ hopes of de­fend­ing their Su­per Bowl ti­tle.

JONATHAN FER­REY/GETTY IM­AGES

Seat­tle wide re­ceiverMike Wil­liams cel­e­brates a 38-yard touch­down catch against the vis­it­ing Saints.

OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IM­AGES

Quar­ter­back Drew Brees ad­justs his hel­met af­ter be­ing sacked in the sec­ond quar­ter against Seat­tle. The Saints’ loss guar­an­tees there will be a new Su­per Bowl cham­pion for the sixth con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

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